Price Shopping Health Care | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

As the costs of health care soar, many consumers are looking for ways to control their medical spending. Also, with the rise of enrollment in high deductible health plans, consumers are paying for more health care out-of-pocket. From medical savings accounts to discount plans for prescriptions, patients are growing increasingly conscious of prices for their healthcare needs. Price shopping procedures and providers allows you to compare prices so that you are getting the best value for your care.

Check out this short video to learn more!

Opioids in America | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

Lately, there’s been a big focus on America’s opioid addiction in the news. Whether it’s news on the abuse of the drug or it’s information sharing on how the drug works, Americans are talking about this subject regularly. We want to help educate you on this hot topic.

Opioids are made from the opium poppy plant.  Opium has been around since 3,400 BC and it was first referenced as being cultivated in Southwest Asia. The drug traveled the Silk Road from the Mediterranean to Asia to China. Since then, the drug has gained popularity for pain relief but it also has gained notoriety as an abused drug. Morphine, Codeine, and Heroin are all derived from the opium poppy and are all highly addictive drugs that are abused all around the world. As the demand for these drugs has increased, so has the production.  From 2016 to 2017, the area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased by 63 percent. In 2016, it killed some 64,000 Americans, more than double the number in 2005.

We can see that the danger from this drug is growing rapidly. What can we do to recognize potential abuse problems and to get help? Here are some facts about opioid addiction:

·       How do they work? Opioids attach to pain receptors in your brain, spinal cord, and other areas that recognize pain signals. As they attach to the receptors, it reduces the sending of pain messages to the brain and therefore reduces the feelings of pain in your body.

·       Short-acting opiates are typically prescribed for injuries and only for a few days. They take 15-30 minutes for pain relief to begin and this relief lasts for 3-4 hours. Long-acting opiates are prescribed for moderate to severe pain and are used over a long period of time. Relief typically lasts for 8-12 hours and can be used alongside a short-acting drug for breakthrough pain.

·       Dependence is common with long-term use of an opiate. This means that the patient needs to take more of and higher doses of the medicine to get the same pain relieving effect. This does not necessarily mean the patient is addicted. Addiction is the abuse of the drug by taking it in an unprescribed way—like crushing tablets or using intravenously.

·       Americans account for less than 5% of the world’s population, but take 80% of the world’s opioid medications. About 5% of the people who take opiates become addicted to the drug.

·       Help is available through many channels from private recovery centers to insurance providers. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline is 1-800-662-HELP. This line is confidential, free, and available 24-hours a day and 7 days a week. Family and friends may also call this number for resources for help. Additional resources can be found at www.drugabuse.com.

Make sure you are educated about the dangers of opioid abuse. But, don’t be discouraged and think that the abuse is incurable! There are many resources that can be used to break the addiction cycle and can make real change in the lives of its victims. Ask for help and offer help.

People in Pill Bottles LINKEDIN.png

Top 5 Social Media Tips That Can Benefit Every Agency | North Carolina Employee Benefits

The world is connected nowadays through our screens. Whether it be email, texting, websites, Facetime, or social media; we all use technology to connect us to others. According to Hubspot, an online marketing and sales software provider, consumers are on social networks more than ever before. They wrote:

In our survey of 1,091 global internet users, we’ve found people have dramatically increased content consumption on the three most popular social networks in the last two years: Facebook (+57% increase), Twitter (25% increase), and LinkedIn (21% increase). These networks have notably doubled down on content in the past few years to capture and retain the attention of their users -- and it appears the playbook is working.The Future of Content Marketing: How People Are Changing the Way They Read, Interact, and Engage With Content

So, how do you harness this tech to strengthen your connectivity to your audience? Here’s the top 5 tips for using social media that every agency can benefit from using. 

1.     Consistent Content Posting

Your followers want to know when they can expect new info to be posted on your website and social media. If you post once a week for 3 weeks and then not post again for another month, your audience will quit paying attention. Consistency is the key! Mke a point to post at the same general time on the same days and you will see more interaction from your followers.

2.     Images & Videos

62% of users thoroughly consume the social media post if it includes video as compared to only 25% consumption of traditional long content posts. That’s a HUGE difference! Grab your audience’s attention when they are scrolling through their social media by posting pictures and videos. They are telling us that they will stop and watch or read more than skimming because of the images they see.

3.     Keep Up with Social Media Trends

Pay attention to what you are most engaged with on social media. Do you like to watch Facebook Live videos? Do you stop and scroll through pictures from companies when they post what they are doing in the community? Do you prefer to chat with a customer service representative online versus an email? If you are seeing your preferences change, there is a good chance your audience’s preferences are changing. Post pictures of your teams serving their community. Use videos to educate your clients on relevant issues in your field. Social media is constantly evolving so stay up on trends and use them on your pages!

4.     Facebook is Still King

Consumers are using Facebook for more than just connecting to their high school friends—they are using it to read content from their favorite businesses and groups. This means you MUST keep your Facebook page updated and have new content posted regularly. According to a new Hubspot survey, 48% of consumers use their Facebook feed to catch up on news, business, and lifestyle stories. This ties back to Tip #1 and reiterates that consistent posting is the sweet spot for engaging customers.

5.     Engage Your Audience

How are you talking to the people who use your business? Are you responding to inquiries on Facebook? When you post pictures on LinkedIn are you responding to the people who are looking and commenting on them? When you engage with your followers, they are more likely to have a stronger relationship with you. Entrepreneur Magazine says, “They are more likely to have a better evaluation of the brands, stay loyal to the brands and recommend the brands to others.”

By following these tips, your social media pages can grow into healthy sites and you can be more effective as you engage with your audience.  Start using them today!

 

 

Top 5 tips for using social media to grow your business(1).png

Benefits of an Annual Exam | North Carolina Employee Benefits

Becoming a well-informed patient who follows through on going to their annual exam, as well as follows the advice given to them from their physician after asking good questions, will not only save your budget, but it can save your life!

Check out this short video so you too, can be a well informed patient!

 

Discount Drug Programs | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

Did you know that you can save time and money on your prescription drugs by simply signing up for a discount card online? With savings as much as 80% off, these discount cards keep your health care costs down even when the prices of prescriptions are sharply rising.  At no cost to the patient, discount drug programs negotiate the price of medicines with pharmacies and then pass the savings on to the consumer.  These programs give subscribers a personalized discount card to be used at any pharmacy. While the discount card cannot be used in conjunction with health insurance, the consumer may see that the cost of their medicine is actually LESS with the card than it is with their insurance.

Another benefit to the consumer is that these programs will publish at which pharmacy you can find your medicine. This is especially helpful to the person who has specialty drug prescriptions. For example, Rebekah is prescribed a specialty drug for pain and neuropathy due to Multiple Sclerosis. This drug is not commonly stocked in pharmacies and so many times, she has had to wait for them to order it. By using the discount drug program, Rebekah is able to see which pharmacies have her medicine in stock and the estimated price.

So where do you start? Here are a few discount drug programs to investigate costs and providers for your prescriptions:

·      Provides free drug cards to reduce the out-of-pocket cost of prescription drugs.

·      Click on your state and the site will redirect you to your corresponding prescription assistance program.

·      Compares prices and discounts at thousands of pharmacies.

·      Receive coupons via phone, email, or text to print or present for discounts.

·      Free drug card to present at pharmacy for cost savings on prescriptions.

·      Earn rewards each time you use their card—similar to credit card rewards. Each fill is 500 points and when you reach 5,000 points, you earn a gift card to various retailers.

Being a savvy consumer can save you money! Shop around to find the best cost for your prescription drugs and save time by locating the pharmacy that has your meds in stock. Discount drug programs are a great resource so do your research and find one that fits your needs.

 

Discount-Drug-gif-0-FZk_0uM-W0_beta.gif

The Rap on Wraps | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

There’s a good chance you use a wrap document to help satisfy your Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) summary plan description (SPD) obligations. Yet if you look for a definition of wrap document in ERISA statutes or regulations, you will not find one. The wrap is not a defined term or required document; it is simply a format. So why do you need a wrap document? Here are three (of many) reasons why a wrap document is a solid choice.

Reason 1

Your insurance carrier materials are not enough in most cases.

A common misconception is that carrier materials or benefit description booklets meet all ERISA SPD requirements. They rarely do; in fact, they usually fall short.

For example, the SPD must define or explain eligibility for benefits. A carrier’s materials may indicate that a benefit is available for all full-time employees, but not define what constitutes “full-time.” An SPD that does not completely communicate eligibility is deficient, may confuse employees, and could result in costly litigation for your company.

Therefore, to address gaps like these, it’s advisable to use a wrap document to “wrap around’ the existing carrier documents and fill in any required ERISA provisions the carrier documents are missing.

Reason 2

You are an applicable large employer (ALE) and use the lookback measurement method.

ALEs who use the lookback measurement method to determine eligibility for medical benefits must meet a complex set of rules for determining whether and how certain employees are eligible for healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The rules are complex and daunting for employers. Even more daunting, however, is explaining these eligibility rules to employees.

Carriers are not required to communicate this information, and very likely will not. Therefore, it is up to you to ensure the information is communicated. While your specific lookback measurement method is not required to be explained in an SPD – and some employers choose to put it in an employment policy or handbook — the SPD is a logical place to include this information because it also communicates your other benefits eligibility requirements.

Reason 3

A wrap reduces your reporting obligations.

You may use a wrap document to combine multiple insurance policies into a single document, which results in one ERISA plan for all combined benefits. This simplifies and reduces reporting requirements for employers who are subject to Form 5500 filing requirements.

Most employers with 100 or more health and welfare benefit plan participants as of the first day of the plan year, as well as certain employers with fewer than 100 participants, are required to file a Form 5500 annually. (Participants include covered employees and former employees who elect COBRA, but spouses and dependents are not counted.) Some plans, such as governmental plans or certain church plans, are exempt from filing a Form 5500.

The wrap document may be a time saver if you have multiple health and welfare benefit plans subject to Form 5500 filing requirements. For example, if you have a vision, dental, and medical plan that each meet the “100 or more participant” threshold, then you would be required to file a Form 5500 for each plan. However, if the plans are all wrapped together into a single document, then they are considered one ERISA plan and you would only have to file one Form 5500.

Do it Right

While there are many other reasons an employer should consider investing in a wrap document, not all wrap documents are made equal. Work with a reputable vendor and/or competent counsel to ensure your wrap document meets all compliance requirements.

Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

wrap on wraps.jpg

Disability Insurance and why you need it! | North Carolina Employee Benefits

“Your most valued asset isn’t your house, car, or retirement account. It’s the ability to make a living.”

No one foresees needing disability benefits.  But, should a problem arise, the educated and informed employee can plan for the future by purchasing disability insurance to help cover expenses when needed.

When you ask people what is the number one reason disability insurance is needed, most will answer that it is for workplace related injuries. However, the leading causes of long-term absences are back injuries, cancer, and heart disease and most of them are NOT work related.   In addition, the average duration of absences due to disability is 34 months.  So how do you prepare for an unplanned absence from work as a result of an injury or illness? Disability insurance is a great option.

Disability insurance is categorized into two main types.

Short Term Disability covers 40-60% of the employee’s base salary and can last for a few weeks to a few months to a year. There is typically a short waiting period before benefits begin after the report of disability.  This plan is generally sponsored by the employer.

Long Term Disability covers 50-70% of the employee’s base salary and the benefits end when the disability ends or after a pre-set length of time depending on the policy. The wait period for benefits is longer—typically 90 days from onset of disability.  This plan kicks in after the short-term coverage is exhausted. The individual purchases this plan to prevent a loss of coverage after short-term disability benefits are exhausted.

While the benefits of these disability plans are not a total replacement of salary, they are designed for the employee to maintain their current standard of living while recovering from the injury or illness. This also allows the individual to pay regular expenses during this time.

There are many ways to enroll in a disability insurance plan. Often times your employer will offer long-term and short-term coverage as part of a benefits package. Supplemental coverage can also be purchased.  Talk with your company’s HR department for more information on how to enroll in these plans.  Individuals who are interested in purchasing supplemental coverage can also contact outside insurance brokers or even check with any professional organizations to which they belong (such as the American Medical Association for medical professionals) as many times they offer insurance coverage to members.

As you begin planning for your future, make sure you research the types of coverage available and different avenues through which to purchase this coverage. For more information on disability and the workplace, check out:

·      Americans with Disabilities Act

·      The National Organization on Disability

·      Council for Disability Awareness

·      Social Security Administration

Disability Insurance infographic.png

Intro to Self-Funding | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

The topic of Self-Funding is huge, so let's break it down into smaller bites to digest.  Check out this great video on it!

A DOL Audit Can Happen to You | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

Summary plan descriptions (SPDs) are required for all retirement, health, and welfare plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). However, misconceptions about this requirement are widespread. ERISA attorney Stacy H. Barrow, partner with Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP, had a chat with ThinkHR about the importance of having proper ERISA documentation and the consequences of failing to do so.

THR: What types of employers need to have an SPD?

SHB: We tell all employers — of any size — who offer plans subject to ERISA that they need to have an SPD. This is the first item in every Department of Labor (DOL) audit. If you don’t have one and you get audited or a participant asks for plan documents, you will be scrambling to put documents together and you can’t do them fast enough to avoid an issue. In addition, cafeteria plans can only be adopted prospectively, so if you don’t have a written cafeteria plan in place, you may be jeopardizing the tax qualified status of your plan.

THR: Won’t my broker or carrier take care of these documents?

SHB: Employers may think that brokers or carriers take care of all required benefits documentation, but at the end of the day, it’s the employer who is responsible for complying with ERISA’s SPD requirement. Your broker may help you, but they might not be aware of every benefit you offer or your eligibility guidelines. The carrier’s documentation often is missing some of the required language, which is why you use a wrap. You don’t specifically have to use a wrap to develop your SPD, but the carrier document won’t get you there and an wrap is often the best way to comply. If the plan documents aren’t compliant, that’s not the carrier’s or broker’s responsibility, it’s the employer’s.

THR: Do I really need to be concerned about a DOL audit?

SHB: Employers can get complacent about documentation, thinking that only large employers get audited, or it won’t happen to them. It’s not only the large corporations that get audited. It can happen to employers of any size or type. It’s important to make sure you have good benefits documentation, because if you don’t, and you do get audited, it might cause the DOL to dig deeper and look for other problems, such as looking into your 401(k) plan.

Plan documentation is a huge part of every DOL audit. I can’t stress strongly enough that they will want to see the summary plan description and plan documents. If you can get good, compliant documents to the DOL, it increases the chances of a speedy resolution. If you can provide them quickly, it sends a message that you are ready and in compliance.

THR: What are the consequences of being out of compliance?

SHB: Not having the proper documents may be an issue if you get audited or there is litigation over a denied claim. You need to be prepared for this possibility. If the DOL audits and imposes penalties, it may not be because the employer didn’t have a wrap document, but rather because the document wasn’t updated, wasn’t compliant, or wasn’t distributed to employees. And the DOL may impose penalties of up to $152 per day for failure to provide an SPD upon request. Also, failure to inform participants of plan changes may invalidate those changes.

Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

 

DOL can audit you.jpg

6 Ways to Keep the Flu from Sidelining Your Workplace North Carolina Benefit Advisors

This year’s flu season is a rough one. Although the predominant strains of this year’s influenza viruses were represented in the vaccine, they mutated, which decreased the effectiveness of the immunization. The flu then spread widely and quickly, and in addition, the symptoms were severe and deadly. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the 2017 – 2018 flu season established new records for the percentage of outpatient visits related to flu symptoms and number of flu hospitalizations.

Younger, healthy adults were hit harder than is typical, which had impacts on the workplace. In fact, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. recently revised its estimates on the impact of this flu season on employers, raising the cost of lost productivity to over $21 billion, with roughly 25 million workers falling ill.

Fortunately, the CDC is reporting that it looks like this season is starting to peak, and while rates of infection are still high in most of the country, they are no longer rising and should start to drop. What can you do as an employer to keep your business running smoothly for the rest of this flu season and throughout the next one?

  1. Help sick employees stay home. Consider that sick employees worried about their pay, unfinished projects and deadlines, or compliance with the company attendance policy may feel they need to come to work even if they are sick. Do what you can to be compassionate and encourage them to stay home so they can get better as well as protect their co-workers from infection. In addition, make sure your sick leave policies are compliant with all local and state laws, and communicate them to your employees. Be clear with the expectation that sick employees not to report to work. For employees who feel well enough to work but may still be contagious, encourage them to work remotely if their job duties will allow. Be consistent in your application of your attendance and remote work rules.
  2. Know the law. Although the flu is generally not serious enough to require leaves of absence beyond what sick leave or PTO allow for, in a severe season, employees may need additional time off. Consider how the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), state leave laws, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may come into play for employees who have severe cases of the flu, complications, or family members who need care.
  3. Be flexible. During acute flu outbreaks, schools or daycare facilities may close, leaving parents without childcare. Employees may also need to be away from the workplace to provide care to sick children, partners, or parents. Examine your policies to see where you can provide flexibility. Look for opportunities to cross-train employees on each other’s essential duties so their work can continue while they are out.
  4. Keep it clean. Direct cleaning crews to thoroughly disinfect high-touch areas such as doorknobs, kitchen areas, and bathrooms nightly. Provide hand sanitizer in common areas and encourage frequent handwashing. Keep disinfecting wipes handy for staff to clean their personal work areas with.
  5. Limit exposure. Avoid non-essential in-person meetings and travel that can expose employees to the flu virus. Rely on technology such as video conferencing, Slack, Skype, or other platforms to bring people together virtually. Consider staggering work shifts if possible to limit the number of people in the workplace at one time.
  6. Focus on wellness. Offer free or low-cost flu shots in the workplace. If your company provides snacks or meals for employees, offer healthier options packed with nutrients.

Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

woman-with-tea-in-hands-PPNNSA2_edited-694x240.jpg

Benefits of an Annual Exam | North Carolina Employee Benefits

Have you ever heard the proverb "Knowledge is power?" It means that knowledge is more powerful than just physical strength and with knowledge people can produce powerful results. This applies to your annual medical physical as well!

The #1 goal of your annual exam is to GAIN KNOWLEDGE. Annual exams offer you and your doctor a baseline for your health as well as being key to detecting early signs of diseases and conditions.

The #1 goal of your annual exam is to

GAIN KNOWLEDGE

 According to Malcom Thalor, MD, "A good general exam should include a comprehensive medical history, family history, lifestyle review, problem-focused physical exam, appropriate screening and diagnostic tests and vaccinations, with time for discussion, assessment and education. And a good health care provider will always focus first and foremost on your health goals."

Early detection of chronic diseases can save both your personal pocketbook as well as your life! By scheduling AND attending your annual physical, you are able to cut down on medical costs of undiagnosed conditions. Catching a disease early means you are able to attack it early. If you wait until you are exhibiting symptoms or have been symptomatic for a long while, then the disease may be to a stage that is costly to treat. Early detection gives you a jump start on treatments and can reduce your out of pocket expenses.

When you are prepared to speak with your Primary Care Physician (PCP), you can set the agenda for your appointment so that you get all your questions answered as well as your PCP's questions. Here are some tips for a successful annual physical exam:

·       Bring a list of medications you are currently taking—You may even take pictures of the bottles so they can see the strength and how many.

·      Have a list of any symptoms you are having ready to discuss.

·      Bring the results of any relevant surgeries, tests, and medical procedures

·      Share a list of the names and numbers of your other doctors that you see on a regular basis.

·      If you have an implanted device (insulin pump, spinal cord stimulator, etc) bring the device card with you.

·      Bring a list of questions! Doctors want well informed patients leaving their office. Here are some sample questions you may want to ask:

o   What vaccines do I need?

o   What health screenings do I need?

o   What lifestyle changes do I need to make?

o   Am I on the right medications?

Becoming a well-informed patient who follows through on going to their annual exam as well as follows the advice given to them from their physician after asking good questions, will not only save your budget, but it can save your life!

Annual Exam Resized Image.jpg

Benefits Easy: Intro to Self-Funding | North Carolina Employee Benefits

As the first month of 2018 wraps up, companies have already begun the arduous task of submitting budgets and finding ways to cut costs for the new year. One of the most effective ways to combat increasing health care costs for companies is to move to a Self-Funded insurance plan. By paying for claims out-of-pocket instead of paying a premium to an insurance carrier, companies can save around 20% in administration costs and state taxes. That's quite a cost savings!

The topic of Self-Funding is huge and so we want to break it down into smaller bites for you to digest. This month we want to tackle a basic introduction to Self-Funding and in the coming months, we will cover the benefits, risks, and the stop-loss associated with this type of plan.

THE BASICS

·       When the employer assumes the financial risk for providing health care benefits to its employees, this is called Self-Funding.

·       Self-Funded plans allow the employer to tailor the benefits plan design to best suit their employees. Employers can look at the demographics of their workforce and decide which benefits would be most utilized as well as cut benefits that are forecasted to be underutilized.

·       While previously most used by large companies, small and mid-sized companies, even with as few as 25 employees, are seeing cost benefits to moving to Self-Funded insurance plans.

·       Companies pay no state premium taxes on self-funded expenditures. This savings is around 1.5% - 3/5% depending on in which state the company operates.

·       Since employers are paying for claims, they have access to claims data. While keeping within HIPAA privacy guidelines, the employer can identify and reach out to employees with certain at-risk conditions (diabetes, heart disease, stroke) and offer assistance with combating these health concerns. This also allows greater population-wide health intervention like weight loss programs and smoking cessation assistance.

·       Companies typically hire third-party administrators (TPA) to help design and administer the insurance plans. This allows greater control of the plan benefits and claims payments for the company.

As you can see, Self-Funding has many facets. It's important to gather as much information as you can and weigh the benefits and risks of moving from a Fully-Funded plan for your company to a Self-Funded one. Doing your research and making the move to a Self-Funded plan could help you gain greater control over your healthcare costs and allow you to design an original plan that best fits your employees.

Intro to Self Funding January 2018 (002).png

Federal Employment Law Update – January 2018 | North Carolina Employee Benefits

WHD Revises Test for Unpaid Internships

On January 5, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) released a Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB No. 2018-2) establishing that the primary beneficiary test, rather than the six-point test, will determine whether interns at for-profit employers are employees under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The primary beneficiary test requires an examination of the economic reality of the intern-employer relationship to determine which party is the primary beneficiary of the relationship. The following seven factors are part of this test:

  1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee — and vice versa.
  2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
  3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
  4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
  5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
  6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job after the internship.

According to the WHD, under the primary beneficiary test, no one factor is dispositive and every factor is not required to be fulfilled to conclude that the intern is not an employee entitled to the minimum wage. The primary beneficiary test is a distinct shift in analysis because per the six-part test every intern and trainee would be an employee under the FLSA unless his or her job satisfied each of six independent criteria. Courts have held that the primary beneficiary test is an inherently “flexible” test and whether an intern or trainee is an employee under the FLSA necessarily depends on the unique circumstances of each case.

The WHD announced it will conform to the federal court of appeals’ determinations and use the same court-adopted test to determine whether interns or students are employees under the FLSA.

Read the field bulletin

Increased Penalties for Federal Violations

On January 2, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced in the Federal Register that penalties for violations of the following federal laws have increased for 2018:

  • Black Lung Benefits Act.
  • Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act.
  • Employee Polygraph Protection Act.
  • Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (child labor and home worker).
  • Family and Medical Leave Act.
  • Immigration and Nationality Act.
  • Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.
  • Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act.
  • Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act.

These increases are due to the requirements of the Inflation Adjustment Act, which requires the DOL to annually adjust its civil money penalty levels for inflation by no later than January 15.

These increased rates are effective January 2, 2018.

Read the Federal Register

OSHA Penalties Increased

On January 2, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor announced in the Federal Register that Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) penalties will increase for 2018 as follows:

  • Other-than-Serious: $12,934
  • Serious: $12,934
  • Repeat: $129,336
  • Willful: $129,336
  • Posting Requirement Violation: $12,934
  • Failure to Abate: $12,934

These increases apply to states with federal OSHA programs; rates for states with OSHA-approved State Plans will increase to these amounts as well; State Plans are required to increase their penalties in alignment with OSHA’s to maintain at least as effective penalty levels.

These new penalty increases are effective as of January 2, 2018 and apply to any citations issued on that day and thereafter.

Read the Federal Register

Agencies Release Advance Copies of Form 5500 for Filing in 2018

The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) released the advance informational copies of the 2017 Form 5500 and related instructions. For small employee benefit plan reports, advance short form copies of 2017 Form 5500-Short Form (SF) and 2017 Instructions for Form 5500-SF were also released with supplemental materials including schedules and attachments.

Read about and download the Form 5500 Series

 

Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

Federal-694x240.jpg

Oral Health = Overall Health

Have you heard the saying “the eyes are the window to your soul”? Well, did you know that your mouth is the window into what is going on with the rest of your body? Poor dental health contributes to major systemic health problems. Conversely, good dental hygiene can help improve your overall health.  As a bonus, maintaining good oral health can even REDUCE your healthcare costs!

Researchers have shown us that there is a close-knit relationship between oral health and overall wellness. With over 500 types of bacteria in your mouth, it’s no surprise that when even one of those types of bacteria enter your bloodstream that a problem can arise in your body. Oral bacteria can contribute to:

1.     Endocarditis---This infection of the inner lining of the heart can be caused by bacteria that started in your mouth.

2.     Cardiovascular Disease---Heart disease as well as clogged arteries and even stroke can be traced back to oral bacteria.

3.     Low birth weight---Poor oral health has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight of newborns.

The healthcare costs for the diseases and conditions, like the ones listed above, can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Untreated oral diseases can result in the need for costly emergency room visits, hospital stays, and medications, not to mention loss of work time. The pain and discomfort from infected teeth and gums can lead to poor productivity in the workplace, and even loss of income. Children with poor oral health miss school, are more prone to illness, and may require a parent to stay home from work to care for them and take them to costly dental appointments.

So, how do you prevent this nightmare of pain, disease, and increased healthcare costs? It’s simple! By following through with your routine yearly dental check ups and daily preventative care you will give your body a big boost in its general health. Check out these tips for a healthy mouth:

·       Maintain a regular brushing/flossing routine---Brush and floss teeth twice daily to remove food and plaque from your teeth, and in between your teeth where bacteria thrive.

·       Use the right toothbrush---When your bristles are mashed and bent, you aren’t using the best instrument for cleaning your teeth. Make sure to buy a new toothbrush every three months. If you have braces, get a toothbrush that can easily clean around the brackets on your teeth.

·       Visit your dentist---Depending on your healthcare plan, visit your dentist for a check-up at least once a year. He/she will be able to look into that window to your body and keep your mouth clear of bacteria. Your dentist will also be able to alert you to problems they see as a possible warning sign to other health issues, like diabetes, that have a major impact on your overall health and healthcare costs.

·       Eat a healthy diet---Staying away from sugary foods and drinks will prevent cavities and tooth decay from the acids produced when bacteria in your mouth comes in contact with sugar. Starches have a similar effect. Eating healthy will reduce your out of pocket costs of fillings, having decayed teeth pulled, and will keep you from the increased health costs of diabetes, obesity-related diseases, and other chronic conditions.

There’s truth in the saying “take care of your teeth and they will take care of you”.  By instilling some of the these tips for a healthier mouth, not only will your gums and teeth be thanking you, but you may just be adding years to your life.  

dental still for linkedin.JPG

Tax Reform: What It Means for Employee Benefit Plans

December 18th, 2017

Late Friday, the public got its first look at the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The 500-plus page bill is the product of separate House and Senate bills that were reconciled in conference. Congressional Republicans appear to have sufficient votes to pass the reconciled bill in both chambers and deliver it to President Trump’s desk this week.

If signed into law, the bill will make significant changes in the Internal Revenue Code with respect to corporations, businesses, and individuals. There also are a small number of provisions that will affect employee benefit plans. This article outlines the items of particular interest to employers that sponsor health and welfare benefits or retirement and savings plans.

Health and Welfare Benefits

Group health benefits, often considered the primary and most valuable benefit provided by employers, are not affected by the bill. Requirements that were added several years ago by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the so-called employer mandate and employer reporting requirements, will continue to apply. There also are no changes with respect to health flexible spending accounts (HFSAs), health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), or health savings accounts (HSAs).

Current tax laws for group life and accident insurance and short- and long-term disability benefits also continue unchanged.

The original House bill would have affected the preferred tax treatment of adoption assistance benefits and educational assistance plans. The final bill, however, preserves the current treatment.

Dependent care assistance plans, including dependent FSAs, also escaped changes in the final bill. For individual income tax purposes, the federal child care tax credit will be expanded somewhat, so some employees will want to take another look at whether their employer’s FSA, or the federal credit, will offer the greater benefit.

Qualified transportation benefits, often referred to as commuter benefits, are affected by the new bill. For tax years 2018 through 2025, the bill repeals current law that allows employees to exclude bicycle commuting expenses from their gross income. Employees will continue to be able to exclude qualified parking and transit benefits from their income, but employers will lose the ability to deduct their costs for these benefits.

Retirement and Savings Programs

While early House proposals targeted retirement plan contribution limits, employer-sponsored retirement plans were generally unscathed in conference. Therefore, in 2018 employee contributions to 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan remain capped at $18,500 ($24,500 for those age 50 or older). Roth and Traditional IRA limits in 2018 are capped at $5,500 ($6,500 for those age 50 or older).

The most notable change for tax favored employer-sponsored retirement plans relates to loan offsets. Under current law, if an employee receives a loan from the retirement plan and either the plan terminates or the employee terminates employment, then the employee’s obligation to repay the loan is accelerated and the employee must either repay the outstanding balance on the loan or roll the outstanding balance into another eligible retirement plan within 60 days to avoid tax liability for loan offset.

Under the bill, if the plan terminates or an employee fails to meet the repayment terms of the loan because they sever employment, then time period within which a loan offset can be rolled over tax-free to another eligible retirement plan is extended from 60 days to the employee’s due date (including extensions) for filing federal income taxes for the tax year in which the plan loan offset occurs. This provision takes effect for plan loan offset amounts treated as distributed in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017.

Additionally, the tax plan provides more relief for employees impacted by natural disasters occurring in the 2016 or 2017 tax years. The natural disaster had to occur in an area declared as a disaster area by the president and the casualty damage (exceeding $500) must have resulted from that disaster. In such cases, employees who received a distribution from their eligible retirement plan (including a 401(k) plan, 457(b) plan or an IRA) may recontribute the funds to an eligible retirement plan to which a rollover can be made within three years after the date on which the distribution was received to avoid the money being included as income.

For this to apply to employees, employers will need to make retroactive plan amendments on or before the last day of the first plan year beginning after December 31, 2018 (December 31, 2020 for governmental plans) or a later date prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury. The amendment is retroactively effective if it applies retroactively for the applicable period and the plan is operated in accordance with the amendment during that period. Therefore, amendments should reflect their operations during that time period. Employers are encouraged to work with employee benefits counsel to address any retroactive plan amendments.

Summary

Although early versions of tax reform bills would have affected several types of employee benefits, the final bill makes very few changes and those changes are fairly modest. Employers and their advisors will want to pay particular attention to issues affecting commuter benefits, loan provisions under 401(k) and similar plans, and tax relief for retirement/savings plan participants who were impacted by natural disasters in the past two years.

Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

 

Tax Reform.jpg

Utilize FSA Monies with Key Year–End Strategies

‘Tis the Season’. Like most, you‘re probably in the midst of the “hustle and bustle” of this holiday season with dinners, parties, and activities; Christmas shopping; and spending those remaining FSA dollars you have allocated this year.  

Wait, what? Yes, you read right. Chances are, if you’ve opted to utilize an employer-sponsored FSA account in 2017, you may have remaining funds you’ll need to spend. This is especially true if your employer opted for the $500 carryover rule in lieu of a grace period. Regardless of what flexible spending account you have, here are some strategies to get the most out of this benefit before year end.

Medical Care

Medical FSAs are the most common supplemental flexible coverage offered under employer benefit plans. If you’ve elected this coverage for 2017, here are a few things to consider when spending these funds.

Routine and Elective Medical Procedures

Whether routine or not, now’s the time to get appointments booked. If your employer offers a grace period for turning in receipts, you can book appointments into the first couple of months of the New Year and get reimbursed from this year’s funds without affecting 2018’s contributions. This has a two-fold advantage, as you can also spread next year’s deductible over the coming year.  

Several routine and elective procedures that are FSA-eligible include:

·        Lasik

·        Sleep Apnea/Snoring

·        Hernia surgery

·        Colonoscopy

·        Smoking/Weight Loss Cessation Programs

Alternative Therapies

Under IRS law, certain alternative therapies are eligible for reimbursement. Acupuncture and chiropractic care, alternative medicinal treatments, and herbal supplements and remedies are a great way to use up your funds for the year and get a little cash back when you most need it.

Dental

Dental benefits often work differently than medical coverage. According to the American Dental Association, this benefit is often capped annually – generally between $1,000 and $3,000.  If you have unused funds remaining in your FSA, now may be the time to schedule a last-minute appointment with your dentist, especially if you might need serious work down the road. This way, you can use up the funds remaining in your account by year-end, and reduce your out-of-pocket expense next year by sharing the cost of additional dental services over a longer period of time.

Prescription Refills

Refilling your prescription medications at year end are a great way to use up your funds in your medical FSA. Take inventory of your prescription drugs, toss out expired ones, and make that call for a refill to your doctor or pharmacy.

Over the Counter Drugs, Medical Equipment and Supplies

Many OTC medications, medical equipment and supplies are eligible for reimbursement under a medical FSA. First-aid kits, blood-pressure monitors, thermometers, and joint braces are just a few.  Please note that some will require a note or prescription from your doctor.

Mileage and Other Healthcare-Related Extras

Traveling to and from any medical facility for appointments or treatment are eligible for reimbursement under your FSA. This not only includes traveling by your own vehicle, but also by bus, train, plane, ambulance service; and does include parking fees and tolls.

In addition, you can get reimbursed for other health-related expenses. These include:

·        Lodging and meals during a medical event.

·        Medical conferences concerning an illness of you or one of your dependents.

·        Advance Payments on a retirement home or long-term care.

Dependent Care

If you have opted to contribute to a DCFSA, you can get reimbursed for day care, preschool, summer camps and non-employer sponsored before and after school programs. In addition, funds contributed to this type of FSA can be used for elderly daycare if you’re covering more than 50% your parent’s maintenance costs.

Adoption Assistance

If you are contributing to an Adoption Assistance FSA offered by your employer, you can get reimbursed for any expenses incurred in the process of legally adopting an eligible child.  Eligible expenses include adoption fees, attorney fees and court costs, medical expenses for a child prior to being placed for adoption, and related travel costs in association with the adoption process.

Make the most out of your FSA contributions by using the above strategies to your advantage as we close out 2017. As you move into 2018, review the maximum contribution guidelines for the coming year as set by the IRS, and establish a game plan on expenditures next year. Seek your HR department’s expertise for guidelines and tips they can give you to maximize this valuable benefit package.

FSA checklist.jpg